Flashback Fridays: Blinded by the light . . .

You’re a boy who lives with his family on a series of rafts that float on the water.  It’s all you’ve known your entire life, this darkness, this water, the endless journey.  But you decide to take matters into your own hands and discover if there’s more out there, something beyond what you know . . .

Do you remember:

Journey Outside by Mary Q. Steele (Puffin Books, c1969)

There are a few marked books from my childhood that I’ve been searching for without known the title or author.  Every so often the Internet coughs up the answer on one of these long-lost titles. (I owe this title to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange)  My mother had a marvelous resource for read-alouds when we were kids, a book that is still in print, though updated many times.  The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  Mom would pick titles from the list to find at the library and read to us, especially once we exhausted our small home library.  Many beloved books were encountered that way–and many more curious stories that I’m still tracking down.  One such was this book, Journey Outside.  Despite being a Newbery Honor book, the work has slipped into obscurity and finding it on library shelves nowadays would be a challenge. At the time, however, my mother found the title on a list for reading aloud to fourth and fifth graders and checked it out of the library to read to us.

The story is about Dilar, a young teen boy who has lived his whole life upon rafts in dark cavernous waterways.  There is an entire group of these Raft Dwellers, with each family sharing their lives aboard their personal raft. They live in the near dark on the water floating on with the currents.  Dilar’s grandfather claims they are headed for ” a better place” but after years of hearing this, Dilar is beginning to doubt the truth of it.  He’s even beginning to suspect the rafts are passing some of the same places again and again.  Determined to find out if there’s more out there, Dilar sneaks off the raft and finds a passage from the cavern that leads up and outside.  Stunned and overwhelmed by the outside world with it’s brilliant sun light, wide open spaces and incredible tastes and smells, Dilar eats himself sick on peaches and gets a near-lethal sunburn.

This was the cover I think was on our copy of the book.

For some reason this is the image that stuck with me and my mother over the years, the peaches and the sunburn.  Dilar is saved by a young woman who brings him home and helps him heal, but Dilar quickly realizes that her society also has its flaws.  So he goes on a journey to find answers, encountering many different types of societies and people and finally coming to some truths about his own people.  It’s a book that I realize reading back through the descriptions, is very heavy on allegory, reminding me  in some ways of The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt or The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce.  The story closes with a rather open-ended  finish: Dilar returns to his people with his new knowledge and wisdom, determined to change the course of life for his people.  But that’s it–we have to imagine what happens after this point.

Beyond the peaches and the sunburn, the thing I took away from the books was the image of an entire group of people whose history and experience is entirely confined to a dark cavern and the river that runs through it.   They journey along blindly, not knowing what exits beyond their circular path and water bound existence.  It’s a story that causes you to think and consider and perhaps question.

Any others remember this title?

Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on October 19, 2015, in Flashback Fridays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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